In late October 2012, an Italian court convicted a government official and six scientists of manslaughter after they failed to provide adequate information about an earthquake that struck L’Aquila and killed more than 300 people. The officials were found guilty of negligence and malpractice in assessing danger and keeping the city safe.
This poses the question: is the prediction of earthquakes a realistic goal?
For the longest time, humanity has been curious about the universe, space, and the planet that harbors life, Earth.
Every time a rocket is launched into space, thousands swarm space centers and conversations emerge about what discoveries can be made. There has been plenty of talk about weird and mysterious sightings on planet earth. This has left modern societies grappling with the possibility of alien visitors and trying to debunk the myths of lost civilizations.
Despite the significant advancements in technology and research, scientists and experts continue to struggle with questions about planet Earth. For example, no one is still able to explain the Bermuda Triangle or Mount Roraima in South America. There is still no explanation why Earth ended up with so much water, and why most of its fresh water is frozen in Antarctica.
How did we end up with all this oxygen? And who even named our planet? These are unresolved mysteries that still linger in the minds of many. Unfortunately, these important questions have given birth to more myths, rumors, and speculations. In fact, feel free to come up with your theory until you hear otherwise.
On the bright side, these mysteries have kept us ‘busy’ in a quest to understand the planet that has hosted us for centuries.
Here are 25 biggest unresolved mysteries about planet earth:
25. HOW DID EARTH FORM?
There is an agreement that planets originated from the same nebula cloud, but no one is certain about how Earth obtained its chemical composition.
Today, some credible models try to explain how Earth may have formed, but none of them offers enough insight into the origin of planet Earth.
The most intriguing questions revolve around how Earth evolved into what it is today, and why it stood out from the other planets. Our planet is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old, and for all that time, it has accommodated life.
It is firmly believed that Earth formed by accretion from the solar nebula. However, during this period, Earth did not contain oxygen and would not have been able to sustain life. Much of it must have been in a molten state due to volcanism and collisions with other bodies. Earth then underwent a major collision that led to the emergence of the moon and also resulted in it tilting at an angle.
Over time, it cooled into a solid crust that allowed water to exist on its surface.
Since then, it has been undergoing a number of geological and biological changes and has caused organisms to evolve or go into extinction as they try to adapt to its changes. Its oceans, and large bodies have substantially been determined by plate tectonics, at least according to experts.
24. WHO NAMED PLANET EARTH?
Scientists, archaeologists, and even astronomers have not been able to answer this age-old question.
What is known is that Earth got its name from a combination of Old English and German words. An interesting fact is that Earth was the only planet that was not named after a Greek or Roman deity. Our planet was named for one of its mineral that is responsible for life: soil/ground/land.
No data points to when Earth received its name, but the Bible provides evidence of one of the earliest cases of Earth having a name. So, the Bible is the earliest recorded use of the name Earth.
Our only guess is that whoever wrote about Earth back then did not have as much information as we do today about planets and the solar system. The writer may have been referring to the ground we walk on.
But why was this planet not named after a god?
There is a theory claiming that Earth was not considered a planet at first, but later thinkers and civilizations theorized that we were also standing on a planet. By this time, other planets had already received their Roman names.
23. WHAT’S DOWN THERE IN THE CORE?
Geophysicists continue to make wild guesses about what could be at the heart of planet Earth. While experts claim that Earth’s crust is broken into fragments that move about its surface, that is only a tip of the iceberg. There are another 6,000+ kilometers of iron and rock below the tectonic plates whose content no one is sure about.
As scientists continue to probe the ‘Earth’s engine,’ they have made discoveries that suggest it is intriguingly complex. What is true is that the mantle and core are always in constant convective motion, but no expert can precisely describe these changes.
In the 1940s, the mystery had been solved when scientists concluded that the core is made up of Iron and Nickel, which were missing from the Earth’s crust. However, gravity measures in the 1950s confirmed that the claim was wrong.
22. WHAT HAPPENED DURING EARTH’S “DARK AGE?”
One way of understanding the oceans and atmosphere is to understand Earth’s early development. But very little has been preserved from that time to provide enough information.
Scientists claim that during the later stages of Earth’s formation, it collided with a Mars-sized planet and the collision resulted in so much heat that it caused the entire planet to melt into magma soup. It is unclear how this magma soup differentiated into the lithosphere, mantle, and core.
The collision happened as the Earth was settling down in its orbit and erased all the geological records that would have been used to understand the period. Today, the Earth’s crust is mainly made up of rocks that are not older than 3.6 billion years and are not reliable in providing an insight of what may have happened.
It is likely that the Hadean eon collision is crucial to understanding Earth’s evolution and may have paved the way for life. Experts believe that melting, mixing and burying of rocks may have had great importance back then.
21. HOW DID WE GET FROM NO LIFE ON EARTH TO THE ABUNDANT LIFE WE HAVE TODAY?
The first life forms appeared some 3 billion years ago. Photosynthetic life is believed to have emerged some 2 billion years ago, and it was responsible for enriching our atmosphere with oxygen. Before then, life was mostly small and microscopic. The fossilized mats of cyanobacteria are some of the oldest proof of life. But these bacteria are too complex and suggest that life may have started earlier.
What is highly likely is that when life first appeared on Earth, the conditions then must have been very different from what we have today. That is why the earliest forms of life may have been based on RNA, and not the DNA and proteins that we are accustomed to. These forms of life must have started after the planet was stable enough – to support life.
Some theories question whether life began at all and suggest that it may have resulted from a distant world or a fallen asteroid, or comet. Or perhaps life was already there before the bombardment that churned the earth surface into molten rock.
20. WHAT ABOUT ALL THE WATER? WHERE DID IT ALL COME FROM?
After Earth had coalesced with the other planet, scientists believe it was a dry rock. But how did we end up with all the water?
70% of Earth is covered by water, but no one can explain where the water came from and how it got here. Humans have been particularly curious as to why water dominated this planet. Why not land?
Some scientists have argued that Earth may have been struck by ice-filled asteroids, called carbonaceous chondrites, which had enough ice to create all the oceans and water bodies that we have today.
One theory claims that after its formation, Earth held onto some water that it might have gotten from the nebula of gas and dust that was responsible for the formation of planets. Some of this water remains on Earth and has been recycled through the mantle layer.
19. WHY IS MOST OF EARTH’S FRESH WATER HELD IN GLACIERS?
While the Earth’s surface is 70% covered by water, most of this water is contained in lakes, oceans, and rivers. However, some of it is stored in ice sheets that are found in Greenland and Antarctica. In fact, most (around 70%) of the world’s fresh water is contained in these two ice sheets.
The mystery is why most of our fresh water is frozen. According to scientists, if Antarctica (which is the larger of the two) melts, sea levels would increase by around 60 meters, and our weather would be adversely affected.
Scientists have for a long time probed Antarctica, but the continent still holds its secrets close and contains the largest single mass of ice on Earth.
It holds 90% of Earth’s freshwater ice, but what is under there? Researchers have found enormous mountains (Gamburtsev Mountains) that they know little about. Among the mountains, there is a freshwater lake called Lake Vostok that is buried between 2.5 miles of solid ice. And the ice is ‘alive’ as it contains bacteria, which probably find the ice mass a functional ecosystem.
Another puzzling question is why the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is expanding while the Arctic sea ice is melting. There has been plenty of speculation that the changes are being caused by climatic effects. But most importantly, how is Earth able to preserve its fresh water in the form of ice?
18. AND WHAT ABOUT OXYGEN?
The oxygen we have in our atmosphere originated from microscopic creatures referred to as cyanobacteria, which existed some 2.4 billion years ago. These organisms passed oxygen as waste, and they somehow excreted so much oxygen that it reached breathable levels.
It is believed that the Earth’s oxygen reservoir stabilized some 540 million years ago, though no one is sure why, it is believed that it may have been caused by burrowing animals, which had evolved by then and greatly influenced the Earth’s phosphorus cycle.
The amount of oxygen could have remained at its peak level, or it could have declined and left the Earth a lifeless planet. According to most scientists, oxygen levels had been insignificant for a long time and only became significant some 2.4 billion years ago after what scientists call the Great Oxidation Event (GOE).
But many questions remain unanswered.
17. CAN WE PREDICT VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS, EARTHQUAKES AND OTHER DISASTERS?
With all the technological advancements and the use of modern computers, scientists are still unable to identify how fault ruptures start and stop. They are still busy trying to understand how magma moves below the earth’s surface because they are eager to prevent natural disasters.
The biggest problem is understanding the factors that trigger these disasters. For example, scientists have not yet understood the factors that trigger an earthquake from start to completion. While there has been significant progress in establishing the probability of a future earthquake, predicting the exact time and place is still problematic.
More work needs to be done to figure out how fault ruptures start and to improve the predictions on how much shaking should be expected. Earthquakes have remained elusive, especially because they are a result of tectonic plates, which are even more ambiguous to understand. What scientists know is that earthquakes will stop when the energy that moves these plates is depleted.
Geologists have been able to improve their predictive capabilities for volcanic eruptions. Thanks to sensitive new instrumentation. However, they face the challenge of determining the movement of magma from its source to where it finally erupts.
16. WHY DOES EARTH HAVE PLATE TECTONICS?
The plate tectonics ‘rub’ each other to cause major geological changes: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, rearranging of continents, and formation of mountains. But not much is known about these mysterious plates. Scientists have yet to decipher what causes the plates to move and how the plates were created. What scientists agree on is that these plates are found in the Earth’s outer shell and glide over the mantle.
In fact, are plate tectonics even there in the first place?
The question that continues to baffle man does not even bother with the soundness of the theory (whether these plates exist), but why Earth has these plates.
Most of the evidence has been destroyed, and researchers have been left to join the dots using the little available resources. Before plate tectonics, people came up with their theories to explain the existence of various geological features, but the ‘discovery’ of plate tectonics has conveniently unified all the previous theories and assumptions. That is why their existence is undoubted.
15. HOW ARE EARTH PROCESSES CONTROLLED BY MATERIAL PROPERTIES?
Mastering planet Earth should start with understanding major geological processes. But understanding these processes means breaking down the basic chemistry and physics of various materials.
There is agreement that microscale properties of Earth materials are responsible for the macroscale behaviors like mantle convection and plate tectonics. When we are able to understand materials at their microscale level, we should have an easier time understanding Earth’s history, and we will be able to make reasonable predictions about various planetary processes.
Despite the Earth’s complexity, four components are the building blocks of life. These elements are referred to as Earth’s materials and they include water, soil, minerals, and rocks. These materials are contained on the Earth’s crust and are responsible for the survival of animals, the development of human civilization, and the growth of plants.
14. WHERE ARE THE BIG MAGMA CHAMBERS THAT PRODUCE ERUPTIONS?
Researchers have been discussing this topic for the longest time. The most obvious guess is that there is a magma chamber somewhere that feeds volcanoes. In fact, a search began around the 1980s as researchers were hoping to find a source of geothermal energy.
Scientists firmly believed that there must have been a huge magma chamber beneath the Earth’s surface that was responsible for emitting all the magma. Volcano specialists have been working to identify the source of super-eruptions. They have used special equipment to locate areas that may have resulted from movement of large magma bodies, but their efforts have not borne fruit, at least yet.
13. WHAT RELATIONSHIP DOES EARTH HAVE WITH ITS BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBOR, THE MOON?
There is no consensus as to how the moon formed, but it is generally agreed that it resulted from the collision between planet Earth and the Mars-size protoplanet. The reason this theory has been declined, in some quarters, is mainly because some portions of it do not add up. For example, the chemical composition of the moon is so similar to that of planet earth, and that suggests that the moon may have broken off from planet Earth itself.
Most importantly, the moon remains a mystery because is only visible on one side. There have been many probes on this rocky object, but scientists still struggle to understand where it came from. Could it have spun off from Earth? Or was it just roaming around the solar system before it was ‘grabbed’ by planet Earth and the relationship came about? This theory has been mainly supported by the fact that the moon always faces us with the same side. This can happen when an object gets ‘captured.’
12. HOW WILL CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECT PLANET EARTH?
There have been numerous speculations that climate change is going to affect forests, dry-land vegetation, and atmospheric composition, but most of these predictions are not backed up by tangible evidence.
Humans have been particularly concerned because they largely depend on different ecosystems that are currently subject to climate change and human-induced disturbances. To get a definite answer, it will be compulsory to conduct extensive observations to understand the processes in the atmosphere and the major ecosystems. And these observations need to be done on a global, regional, and local scale.
For the past 10,000 years, global climate conditions have been stable though we understand that climate changes can occur in only a decade or century. But how come the climate has remained well-regulated for a long time? And even if the climate changes, how is it going to affect planet earth? These are questions that have left geophysicists and scientists scratching their heads.
11. HOW DOES FLUID FLOW AND TRANSPORT AFFECT THE EARTH’S ENVIRONMENT?
Governments and major corporations have been interested in understanding how they can manage natural resources and the environment. But they must first need to figure out how fluids move beneath the Earth’ surface.
Scientists have spent lots of time trying to uncover what happens on the Earth’s surface and beneath it. They have been conducting these studies to help them formulate mathematical models that can help them predict natural systems.
Regardless of their unending efforts, they are still unable to determine how fluids flow, how fast they flow, and how they transport various materials. According to experts, understanding these natural mechanisms is important in understanding the presence and placement of Earth’s valuable resources.
Understanding fluid flow may also help predict earthquakes, the behavior of volcanoes, and climate change. However, scientists are still unable to come up with reasonable mathematical models. They are also confused as to how fluid flow affects Earth’s environment.
10. HOW DO LIFE AND EARTH SHAPE EACH OTHER?
Scientists believe the development of life has significantly been determined the Earth’s surface, and in the same spirit, the Earth’s surface has been affected by activities of life forms.
Would the atmosphere be containing oxygen if it was not meant to support life? This is highly unlikely. The oxygen has also given rise to other types of life. Earth scientists may be right to believe that geological evolutions result from inorganic processes – like plate tectonics and mantle convection.
It seems fair to believe that life has little significance to this planetary body of rock. But the reality is that several organisms, some of which are microscopic, determine major features of the continents, oceans, and the atmosphere.
Processes like weathering and erosion (influenced by life forms), for example, contribute to the shaping and reshaping of the earth’s surface. In the long run, they affect the mechanism of plate tectonics.
But when you start to investigate this relationship deeply, you are likely to hit a dead end.
What is clear is that astronomical events and geological processes continue to influence life on earth and determine the life that can flourish. However, the interconnectedness of life and the environment continues to baffle many.
The obvious guess is that life controls the Earth’s environment in a way that perpetuates the continuation of life. But geological records have confirmed that life will not always ‘win this battle.’ Sometimes, natural events may change the direction of things. The biggest question is understanding how much of earth’s evolution has been caused by life.
9. HOW DID EARTH BECOME SO HABITABLE?
There are eight other planets, but how did Earth become the most habitable? Why is Earth so special?
First, Earth has water that can help most molecules react. Water is the ‘soup’ that enables life ingredients – like proteins and DNA – to swim and interact to initiate reactions that are needed to sustain life.
Water is, in fact, one of the best solvents because it has the ability to dissolve many substances. And its existence is in large part because Earth is neither too hot nor too cold. This is mainly because Earth is within sun’s habitable zone.
What about energy? Earth also provides it. Life relies on the nutrients created by photosynthesis. Sunlight is responsible for photosynthesis, and is in turn responsible for life’s ‘fuel.’ The sun has also lived long enough to enable life to evolve. According to scientists, habitable worlds need stars that can live for billions of years, and the sun has ‘filled that gap.’
Lastly, the plate tectonics also play a significant role in preserving life. These plates play a vital role in recycling molecules that are needed in life.
These unique factors are, at least, some of the commonly known reasons why Earth is able to accommodate life. But they cannot be the only ones? Even if they are, how could they fall into place so perfectly? That is the riddle.
8. THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
This expanse of ocean is a strange triangular area found in the Atlantic Ocean off the South-Eastern coast of the U.S. The triangle has been mysterious for the longest time as pilots have been telling stories of how their instruments malfunction when they are navigating this region.
Numerous ships have disappeared in the Bermuda triangle without a trace. In the few cases where wrecks were located, the crew members vanished, and these incidents have been happening for centuries. In fact, the triangle has consumed more than 1,000 planes and ships.
The disappearances have led to several myths, with many claiming that the triangle is inhabited by aliens that ‘siphon’ anything that tries to pass near the area. Hundreds of theories and controversies have emerged as a result of this strange unexplainable phenomenon.
So, what is true? Is everything a lie? Or is one theory correct?
The abnormality was first noted by Edward Jones in 1950 and has gotten popular ever since. Vincent Gaddis, an American author, was the first to define the boundary in 1964. The three corners of the triangle are San Juan (in Puerto Rico), Miami (in Florida), and Bermuda (in a north-Atlantic island).
7. THE EYE OF THE SAHARA, MAURITANIA
The Eye of the Sahara or blue eye of Africa is a geological feature found near Ouadane, Mauritania. From space, the feature is very visible and is nearly 50 kilometers across the Sahara Desert. This strange feature has an extremely high degree of circularity and was initially believed to have been caused by an asteroid impact.
Over the years, different arguments have emerged with some claiming it was caused by a volcanic eruption, but that argument was nullified because this mysterious feature lacks a ‘dome.’ Several other theories have followed, but none has been able to offer a clear description of this phenomenon. Some features that make it more mysterious are how its “rings” are equidistant to the center and how it is almost a perfect circle.
Since it’s hard to spot from the Earth’s surface, it managed to hide from plain sight for millennia and was only discovered when humans started invading space. For a while, scientists thought it was an impact crater, but there were no enough melted rock to confirm the claim.
6. ICELAND’S VOLCANO
The eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano in Iceland caught the attention of the world. The eruption started on August 29, 2014, and continued until February 27, 2015. It took a whopping 181 days and is especially mysterious because of the size of its lava field, the amount of sinking that it caused, and the amount of sulfur dioxide it produced. During the time, the region experienced at least 77 earthquakes.
Bárðarbunga left a lava field that was considered to be the third largest on earth and the largest in Iceland since the Laki eruption in 1783-84.
The volcano also left one of the biggest volcanic depression (caldera) ever seen, the Bárðarbunga caldera, which sunk to a depth of 184 feet and formed a 28-mile-long magma-filled canal.
The eruption was the strongest in Europe in more than 240 years and significantly polluted Iceland’s air. However, it provided scientists with a once-in-a-lifetime chance of observing the formation of a caldera.
5. GEOGLYPHS: NAZCA LINES
The most famous geoglyphs are the Nazca Lines, which were discovered in 1939 by a pilot who was flying over the Nazca plains. These lines are believed to have been drawn by the ancient Nazca people. The area stretches more than 80 km between Palpa and Nazca towns.
The mystery of these lines has continued to intensify after sandstorms and gales exposed previously unseen designs. The designs consist of what appears to be a snake and a camelid above an unidentified bird. The discovery was made in late July 2014 by a researcher and pilot.
The mysteries about these lines continue to be a debate with some people claiming that the geoglyphs are connected to water. It is believed that the drawings were done using a single line and were supposed to appeal to the gods to bring rain.
4. STONE SPHERES
These stones were first discovered in South America, around the 1930s, by workers who were loitering in the jungle. To date, no one can explain what these stones are made for though they have previously been found in Costa Rica and Bosnia. Some locals claimed that the stones had gold inside and this led to most of them being broken, destroyed, or dynamited by treasure hunters.
The stones are still considered a mystery. Hundreds of these stones have been documented, and they range in size and weight, but most of them are made using granodiorite.
Today, they are being used to decorate office buildings, schools, and hospitals, and can also be found in museums. They are sometimes used to adorn the homes of the wealthy because they act as status symbols.
Unfortunately, they continue to be the subjected to pseudoscientific speculations.
Stonehenge is made up of a circle of huge stones in a field in Wiltshire, England. These stones, and their arrangement, continue to be a mystery. Those responsible for Stonehenge did not leave behind any records to explain why the stones were placed in that manner.
Therefore, wild theories have emerged regarding the existence and use of these stones. While UFO enthusiasts claim the spot was used as a landing pad for alien space crafts, theories from the 12th century claim the wizard Merlin was responsible for the site.
Others claim Stonehenge may have been a cemetery for the elite while the superstitious believe the spot had healing properties. What remains clear is that the construction work must have been a massive undertaking because it required carrying stones from as far as Wales. There are even theories surrounding how the stones were transported with one suggesting they may have been moved by glaciers during the Ice Age.
While it is clear that it must have been a mammoth task, who organized it? And how did they acquire such knowledge? Erecting the stones must have been hectic without the use of modern machinery and equipment.
2. MOUNT RORAIMA
This is a rather unusual mountain because it does not end in a peak like a typical mountain. Rather, its top is a plateau that is always cloaked with clouds.
It is believed to be one of the world’s oldest geological formations, and its plateau may have resulted from winds and rains. Mount Roraima is also known to have a unique number of animals and plant species that cannot be found anywhere on Earth, and it is not clear why it has a huge number of such strange species.
This giant flat-topped mountain is found in the Guiana Highlands where the boundaries of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil meet and is the source of many rivers around this South American region.
With its 400-meter high cliffs on all sides, it is believed to be only easily accessible from the Venezuelan side, and it experiences rains almost daily, which explains why it has some of the highest waterfalls on its sides.
The mountain remains mysterious in so many ways. One, no one can explain why it is always engulfed in clouds near its peak. Second, no one knows why it has so many alien species. But these are not the only mysteries.
1. HOW LONG WILL LIFE LAST ON PLANET EARTH?
Common knowledge is that all things must end, and that includes life on Earth. But how long will that take?
Fossil records point out that life has lasted for at least 3.5 billion years. During the entire time, life has survived from harsh conditions that could end it: deadly radiation, being disemboweled by objects that fall from space, and freezing. But what is that apocalypse that will render the Earth barren?
The End-Permian Extinction, which happened more than 250 million years ago, is the only time life almost became extinct on planet Earth. During the time, 95% of marine and 85% of land-dwelling species were wiped out. In fact, single-celled organisms are the only species that sailed through unharmed. The event coincided with volcanic activity though there isn’t much information as to what exactly happened.
Today, people wonder about the destruction that can be caused by super volcanoes like Yellowstone. What if it is caused by a massive asteroid? Or maybe it will happen around 7.5 billion years from now when the sun expands and engulfs planet Earth.
Let’s just say this is the most worrying question.
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